is a fortuitous discovery. While perusing a 1930 edition of Radio
News magazine, I ran across an article written by none other than
Senatore Guglielmo Marconi himself - 28 years after the first transatlantic
radio communication had occurred. It's hard to imagine having lived
in an era when radio was looked upon with awe - and even fear -
by most of humankind. Its seemingly magical operation was matched
at the time only with the fledgling air travel revolution. Mr. Marconi
here provides a brief history of his work in making that first radio
contact between Poldhu, England, and Cape Cod, Massachusetts, with
the assistance of the BBC and NBC, respectively. This is the type
of resource that credible historians love since it is a first-hand
account of an event directly from the person who was responsible
for it. A photo of Marconi's log book records the event - in English!
March 1930 Radio News
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early
electronics. See articles from
Radio & Television News, published 1919-1959. All copyrights hereby
A Radio Dream Come True
By Senatore Guglielmo Marconi
International program on short
waves from England celebrates the twenty-eighth anniversary of the
first successful transoceanic tests
|On December 12, 1929, Senatore Guglielmo Marconi, who
sent the first wireless message across the Atlantic twenty-eight
years ago, spoke into a microphone in London and his voice
was heard throughout the United States. Graham McNamee,
in New York, introduced Marconi to American listeners.
Engineers of the National Broadcasting Company and
the Radio Corporation of America were successful in picking
up a short-wave broadcast from Station G-5SW, at Chelmsford,
England, of Marconi's voice, and it was rebroadcast through
a chain of forty-six stations extending as far west as Denver.
The short-wave signals were picked up at Riverhead, Long
Island, and then routed to the New York NBC studios and
the network. The rebroadcast was the sixth successful attempt
of this organization to rebroadcast a program from abroad.
WEAF and WJZ were the New York outlets.
Following is Senatore Marconi's address delivered from the London
studios of the British Broadcasting Corporation and rebroadcast
in the United States by the National Broadcasting Company.
It gives me very great pleasure to recount to
Americans through the courtesy of the National Broadcasting Company
of America and the British Broadcasting Corporation my experiences
at the time when I first attempted and, indeed, successfully, to
send radio signals across the Atlantic Ocean twenty-eight years
ago, almost to the very hour.
From the time of my earliest
experiments I had always held the belief, almost amounting to an
intuition, that radio signals would some day be regularly sent across
the greatest distances on earth, and I felt convinced that trans-Atlantic
radio telegraphy would be feasible.
Very naturally I realized that my first endeavor must be directed
to prove that an electric wave could be sent right across the Atlantic
and detected on the other side.
A scene at St. John's, Newfoundland, showing Senatore Marconi's
arrangement for using a kite to support the antenna which
he used in his first experiments.
The kite itself.
A group of engineers at St. John's who witnessed the first
Senatore Marconi broadcasting from the English broadcasting
station G-5SW at Chelmsford.
Photo of Marconi's log-book.
Marconi and his two assistants, Mr. G. S. Kemp and Mr. P.
What was at that time a
most powerful wireless station was built at Poldhu England for this
purpose and an antenna system was constructed, supported by a ring
of twenty masts, each about two hundred feet high. In the design
and construction of the Poldhu station I was assisted by Sir Ambrose
Fleming, Mr. R. N. Vyvyan and Mr. W. S. Entwisle.
similar station was erected at Cape Cod in Massachusetts. By the
end of August, 1901, the erection of the masts was nearly completed
when a terrific gale swept the English coasts, with the result that
the masts were blown down and the whole construction wrecked. I
was naturally extremely disappointed at this unforeseen accident,
and for some days had visions of my test having to be postponed
for several months or longer, but eventually decided that it might
be possible to make a preliminary trial with a simpler aerial attached
to a stay stretched between two masts 170 feet high and consisting
of sixty almost vertical wires. By the time this aerial was erected
another unfortunate accident, also caused by a gale, occurred in
America, destroying the antenna system of the Cape Cod station.
I then decided, notwithstanding this further setback, to
carry out experiments to Newfoundland with an aerial supported by
balloon or kite, as it was clearly impossible at that time of the
year, owing to the wintry conditions and the shortness of the time
at our disposal, to erect high masts to support the receiving aerial.
On the twenty-sixth of November, 1900, I sailed from Liverpool accompanied
by my two technical assistants, Mr. G. S. Kemp and Mr. P. W. Paget.
We landed at St. Johns, Newfoundland, on Friday. December
the sixth, and before beginning operations I visited the Governor,
Sir Cavendish Boyle, and the Prime Minister. Sir Robert Bond, and
other members of the Newfoundland government, who promised me their
heartiest cooperation in order to facilitate my work. After taking
a look round at the various sites, I considered that the best one
was to be found on Signal Hill, a lofty eminence overlooking the
harbor. On the top of this hill was a small plateau which I thought
suitable for flying either balloons or kites. On a crag of this
plateau rose the Cabot Memorial Tower and close to it was an old
military barracks. It was in a room of this building that I set
up my receiving apparatus in preparation for the great experiment.
On Monday, December 9th, barely three days after my arrival,
I and my assistants began work on Signal Hill. The weather was very
bad and very cold. On the Tuesday we flew a kite with 600 feet of
antenna wire as a preliminary test, and on the Wednesday we had
inflated one of our small balloons, which made its first ascent
during the morning. Owing, however, to the strength of the wind,
the balloon soon broke away and disappeared in the mist. I then
concluded that perhaps kites would answer better, and decided to
use them for the crucial test.
I had arranged with my assistants
in Cornwall to send a series of "S's" at a prearranged speed during
certain hours of the day. I chose the letter "S" because it was
easy to transmit, and with the very primitive apparatus used at
Poldhu I was afraid that the transmission of other Morse signals,
which included dashes, might perhaps cause too much strain on it
and break it down. Mr. Entwisle, Mr. George and Mr. Taylor were
in charge of the English station at Poldhu during the transmission
of signals to Newfoundland.
On the morning of Thursday,
the twelfth of December, the critical moment for which I had been
working for so long at last arrived, and, in spite of the gale raging,
we managed to fly a kite carrying an antenna wire some 400 feet
long. I was at last on the point of putting the correctness of my
belief to the test! Up to then I had nearly always used a receiving
arrangement including a coherer, which recorded automatically signals
through a relay and a Morse instrument. I decided in this instance
to use also a telephone connected to a self-restoring coherer, the
human ear being far more sensitive than the recorder.
at about half-past twelve, a succession of three faint clicks on
the telephone, corresponding to the three dots of the letter S,
sounded several times in my ear, beyond the possibility of a doubt.
I asked my assistant, Mr. Kemp, for corroboration if he
had heard anything. He had, in fact, heard the same signals that
I then knew that I had been justified in my anticipations.
The electric waves which were being sent out into space from Poldhu
had traversed the Atlantic, unimpeded by the curvature of the earth
which so many considered to be a fatal obstacle, and they were now
audible in my receiver in Newfoundland!
I then felt for
the first time absolutely certain that the day when I should be
able to send messages without wires or cables across the Atlantic
and across other oceans and, perhaps, continents, was not far distant.
The then enormous distance, for radio, of 1,700 miles had been successfully
On the following day the signals were again heard,
though not quite as distinctly. However, there was no further doubt
possible that the experiment had succeeded.
The result was
much more than the mere successful realization of an experiment.
It was a discovery which proved that, contrary to the general belief,
radio signals could travel over such great distance a those separating
Europe from America and it constituted, as Sir Oliver Lodge has
stated, an epoch in history.
It must be remembered that
at that time there was no suggestion of the existence of the Heaviside-Kennelly
layer, nor of the reflection of electric wave from the higher regions
of the atmosphere. The instruments we had at our disposal were very
crude compared with those we have today. We had no valves or tubes,
no amplifiers, no sensitive super-heterodyne sets, no directional
transmitters and receivers, and no means of making continuous waves.
All we had for transmitting was the means of making crude damped
waves by means of irregular spark discharges. The receivers that
were then employed were insensitive as compared with those of the
Following the success of the test I was promptly
notified by the Anglo-American Telegraph Company that, as they had
the exclusive right to construct and operate stations for telegraphic
communication between Newfoundland and places outside that colony,
the work upon which I was engaged was a violation of their rights.
I was asked to give an immediate promise not to proceed with my
experiments and to remove my apparatus or legal proceedings would
be taken. I was absolutely astounded by this communication, which,
however, at least gave me the satisfaction of knowing that one of
the great cable companies not only believed in my success but feared
the competition of radio trans-Atlantic communication.
mention this to show why my experiments in Newfoundland were thus
cut short. When, however, the reason became known. I received a
very cordial invitation from the government of Canada to erect a
station in Nova Scotia, an offer which I gladly accepted.
announcement that I had succeeded in transmitting radio signals
across the Atlantic was received with skepticism by most scientists,
principally in Europe. The same thing cannot be said of American
electrical engineers, for the American Institute of Electrical Engineers
was the first technical and scientific body which believed in me
and my statement of having received signals across the Atlantic
Ocean. It was the first distinguished and authoritative society
enthusiastically to celebrate the event and to extend to me its
generous support and valuable encouragement. It celebrated the occasion
by a dinner given to me in New York, at which most distinguished
American scientists took part, including men whose names were and
still are household words in electrical science, such as Dr. Alexander
Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, Professor Elihu Thomson,
Dr. Steinmetz, Dr. Michael Pupin, Mr. Frank Sprague, and many others.
In less than three months from the date of the test to Newfoundland
these long-distance results were more than confirmed by experiments
carried out by myself on the S.S. Philadelphia of the American Line.
Spanning great distances is now child's play compared with
what it was then. The I-beam projector and other commercial radio
telegraph and telephone stations are now exchanging daily hundreds
of thousands of words between distant parts of the earth. Wireless
telephony over world-wide distances is now a reality, together with
transmission of pictures, and the day is approaching when television
will also be a commonplace. It may even be that the transmission
of power over moderate distance may be developed in the not far
distant future. I must leave to your imaginations the uses which
can be made of these new powers. They will probably be as wonderful
as anything which we have experienced so far.
Mr. Kemp and
Mr. Paget are with me at the microphone today while I am addressing
you, and I wish to send my most cordial greetings to all those interested
in radio in America (I feel sure they form the majority of the American
people) and to all my friends at the other side of the Atlantic.